Descartes: A Paradigm Shift In Philosophical Thinking

1529 words - 6 pages

Descartes, often referred to as the “father of modern philosophy,” solidified his foundational role in abstract thinking with his work “Meditations on First Philosophy.” This piece sought to prove the existence of God, as well as provide a criticism of our epistemic standards and values. By undergoing a thought experiment that involved a form of methodological skepticism, Descartes attempted to analyze his beliefs from a clean surface, to see how many of his typical thoughts and beliefs he would be able to keep. Any form of doubt about a belief or topic would warrant its removal from Descartes’ metaphorical table, and unsurprisingly, that table was quite empty. The persistence of Descartes’ work is not due to a lack of refutation, but rather the generation of standards and ideals that reflect a paradigm shift in philosophical thinking.
Descartes’ overall thesis is likely his proof that god exists. However, this larger thesis is composed of several smaller ones that are necessary for him to claim that God exists a priori. Due to the class reading focusing mostly on the mind-body and existence portions of this thesis, I will focus on explaining those preliminary arguments. Before the arguments however, it is important to address how Descartes actually presents the meditations. The information within is revealed to us through a first person perspective, and under the presumption that a single flaw in a belief is enough to discount it completely. Rather than move in a systematic fashion, Descartes chose for pragmatic purposes to ascribe to the analogy that his beliefs were like a building, “when the foundation is cut out from under it,” the “building collapses.” (Descartes 136) Descartes is encouraging an individual perspective on philosophy, as well as a mathematical approach. His other profession as a mathematician provides some basis for this, and the discussion of necessary truths seems very apparent in his writing (through the desire to only hold beliefs that were unquestionable.)
Within the first meditation, Descartes creates the framework for his epistemological project. Using the afore-mentioned notion of methodological skepticism, Descartes attempts to abandon everything that he could possibly doubt. Interestingly, he even allows some room for the pressing atheist, claiming that he has “no reply” (at this point in his meditations) towards arguments that God is fictitious (Descartes 137). He takes this a step further, and claims that if he is reforming his beliefs from a clean slate, he cannot even be aware that he is awake. Rooted in the notion that our senses are fallible, Descartes wonders if it is possible to be aware that what we are doing is actually reality. Through the regular deception of our senses (via mirages, misinterpretations, fallibility…) it is possible that we are deceived in ways that are outside of what we typically consider a deception. Descartes represents this metaphorically thorough the idea of a...

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